Chezik Tsunoda’s son, Yori, was 3 when he drowned in 2018 in a swimming pool.
A year after his death, Ms. Tsunoda felt she had to do something to prevent this tragedy from happening to other families.
So the Seattle resident started work on producing a documentary, “Drowning in Silence,” which will screen during its U.S. premiere today during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
The movie will screen at 5 p.m. at the Metro 4 theater, 618 State St.
It will be shown again at the same Santa Barbara theater at noon Friday.
Ms. Tsunoda, whose first name Chezik is pronounced “Shay-zik,” will be at both screenings for a Q&A afterward.
The documentary made its world premiere during a virtual screening at the Toronto Women’s International Film Festival.
Ms. Tsunoda’s documentary shows her journey from grief to an effort to stop the preventable tragedy of drownings from happening to other families. She interviewed families, physicians and water safety advocates.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more children ages 1-4 die from drowning than any other cause other than birth defects (www.cdc.gov/drowning/facts/index.html).
Ms. Tsunoda said drownings are the second highest cause of death for youths ages 14-17.
“For older ages, it’s in the open water. For the younger ages, it’s pools and bathtubs,” Ms. Tsunoda told the News-Press Wednesday by phone just before catching her flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
“I really wanted people to see how quickly (drownings) can happen. They can happen to anyone,” Ms. Tsunoda said.
She talked about her son’s death.
“We were at a friend’s house, just his family and our family and were playing in the backyard and swimming in the pool,” Ms. Tsunoda said. “It was the case of not watching.
“At some point, you look over, and you see your kid face down (in the water),” she said.
First responders revived Yori and took him to the hospital. “But it was too late. His brain never recovered,” Ms. Tsunoda said.
“In the film, I interviewed several different families, and I wanted to show people you can use your pain for a purpose,” she said.
“Many of these families are fighting alongside me to bring awareness to make sure we reduce the statistics and get kids swimming,” Ms. Tsunoda said, referring to the importance of swimming lessons in preventing drownings.
Ms. Tsunoda noted the need for safety precautions such as life jackets.
And she urges parents who are bathing their young children to bring everything they need to the bathroom. She said a child can drown in the time it takes to go back for a towel.
“When your child is in a bath, you should be sitting right next to them and making sure you’re within an arm’s length to hold them,” Ms. Tsunoda said. “Do not leave your children in the bath.”
Her documentary also addresses racial inequity.
She said her film shows that black and brown children are five times more likely to drown than white children and said the number is higher for Native American children.
“I am an African-American,” Ms. Tsunoda said. “I didn’t expect the disparity.”
The former MTV and VH1 producer said the disparity results from black children having less access to pools, where they can learn to swim. She also said there’s a factor that goes back several generations to a time when segregation prevented black individuals from having access to pools.
When grandmothers and mothers don’t know how to swim, there’s a chance future generations won’t learn as well, she said.
The film’s executive producers are actor Hill Harper (ABC’s “The Good Doctor”) and film and TV editor Joe Beshenkovsky (“This American Life.”)
“Drowning in Silence” cinematographers are Jeff Dolen, Paul Mailman and Seth Haley, and editing was done by Claire Ave’Lallemant.